Believe In Yourself- And Teaching Kids To, Also

I’m a people watcher. I love to sit quietly and observe what’s going on around me, whether it’s in an airport, in line at the grocery store, on the beach or in my classroom.

Today’s generation calls this stalking in some cases, but I call it being observant. Rarely do I say anything; mostly I just watch and listen – and learn. I feel the energy coming from people, I let it bounce back and if I can, get a glimpse into their eyes. Especially when I’m teaching.

Have you ever spent time with a group of teenagers, just watching?

When I watch my students in class, I learn as much – if not more – about them as humans and learners as I do when I’m assessing their writing or thinking. When I get quiet, and watch what they’re doing and saying, how they’re reacting, who is jumping into a challenge and who is hanging back, I learn about their confidence level. And one thing I’ve learned about people is that confidence = achievement.

I think adults belive that middle school is one of the roughest parts of life – a time they’d drfinitely not want to repeat for any reason.

I think it can be so different. Depending on how we approach teaching and parenting, kids, we can make a REAL difference. 

How? By listening. By telling kids we believe in them. And by walking our talk.

Whenever I get a chance to look into a kids’ eyes and tell them that I know they can do it, that I don’t believe they want to fail, they believe me. And it makes a HUGE difference.

Breaking habits is hard stuff. I’m asking my AVID kids to make a 30-day challenge to themselves right now, to think about just one move they could make that would make their life better/happier/more productive if they committed to it for 30 days.

We’ve got a few weeks to go, but I already see them a bit more confident. And these aren’t academic challenges – I think they need to believe in themselves first, and their power of self-control and self-confidence. After that, THEN we can tackle the academics.

If not now, when?

I was in a Lyft the other day with a particularly chatty driver. Exhausted, I didn’t really want to interact, but he wouldn’t let up. I learned he was a community college student who never felt particularly successful in school – he only finished Algebra 1, the told me. He drives after class ends – even though his instructors have a YouTube channel that he knows he should be watching, but he doesn’t.

Turns out, he’s 30 years old, and going back to school after over a decade of feeling like he couldn’t ‘do’ school.

He started talking about being interested in a lecture on electricity he’d just heard – telling me all about conductors and power lines and solar…and while his conversation was circular and hard to follow, I could feel his energy as he shared what he was learning.

He pointed out the overhead power lines along the frontage road, and how crazy it was to think we still used that sort of technology.

Suddenly, I saw it.

“Have you ever thought about studying electricity? I wonder if there’s an electrical technician AA degree you could look into – you seem to be really into it,” I mentioned.

“Yeah, Ieveryone tells me I should work for SMUD,” he replied. “But I don’t want to be the guy who drives around in the truck – I want to be the one who gets out and fixes things.”

“I think you’d be good at it, ” I responded.

“Well, some people say SMUD wants you to have a degree in electrical engineering. And then what if In 10 years I’m 40 and SMUD goes bankrupt?”

“Yes, but you’ll have the skills you can take with you…and people are always going to need power…and if you start now, you’ll have ten years of successful work before you turn 40!” I remarked.

He got quiet for a few minutes, fidgeted with the radio volume and seemed to let it sink in. For that instant, I know he believed me.

Think about it. When did you last face a challenge that you felt confident you could succeed at? Imagine how you felt, how you breathed, how you held your body. Were you successful?

Most of the time, we get what we believe.

And then think about the challenges you felt you couldn’t achieve. Were they academic? Did you feel underprepared? We’re you telling yourself the same old story of ‘I’ve never been good at _____?” Did you find yourself in negative self-talk? We’re you looking around the room/race course/field and wondering ‘How the heck did I get here?”

And, when you were done, did you get what you believed?

So what do we think our kids are doing?

Telling our children ‘I believe in you” build confidence. Of course, they can succeed. Of course, they can complete a challenge. As teachers and adults, why would we believe they couldn’t? Are we setting our students up for failure? Are we really creating situations where we expect them to ‘go down in flames’ and somehow think THAT builds confidence and character?

I sure hope not.

I sure think that way of thinking creates just the opposite – adults who think that because they didn’t ‘do well in school’ that life has nothing left to offer them.

Because we ACHIEVE what we BELIEVE. When we teach kids to have confidence in themselves, to tackle challenges with a plan and with support – to show them that ‘fail’ really means ‘first attempt in learning’ – we teach them to believe they can do ANYTHING.

And when we teach them that – they can. And they will.

And that confidence will carry with them wherever they go.They’ll take it to their tests and competitions, sure. But more importantly, they’ll take it into life. They’ll learn that confidence isn’t just about wondering if they will be liked or approved of. They’ll learn that confidence is about being ok if they aren’t.

Tell a child that you believe in them today, and watch the magic happen. Watch them straighten up just a little. Watch the corners of their mouth turn up just a little – or a lot! Watch for what happens next.

I know it will be something amazing.


Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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1 thought on “Believe In Yourself- And Teaching Kids To, Also

  1. karen steele says:

    OMG. Jennifer, I have just come across your ‘Silence is not an absence of sound’. I couldn’t believe the serendipity.
    Only today I was going through my notes for an article I am calling: Is Silence an absence of sound.
    I haven’t read yours in full, shall keep it for future read when I’ve finished mine. In case your ideas invade mine. I just glanced at one or two sentences and thought NO. Not yet.
    Just wanted to say. Karen

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